Artist P.V. Beaulieu comes back to roost
Klinkhoff Gallery retrospective
The work of Paul Vanier Beaulieu is on exhibit until Sept. 26 at Galerie Walter Klinkhoff on Sherbrooke Street W. With the show, the gallery continues its long tradition of holding an annual after-Labour Day retrospective for a major Canadian artist. None of the works in these museum-quality shows -— on loan from private collectors, corporations and other art institutions -— are offered for sale. Local art aficionados always look forward to the Klinkhoff family’s way of giving something back to the art community.
The presentations also serve as an educational tool, as schools and senior groups are invited to the gallery for a personal tour and a briefing on the artist. "Beaulieu was chosen this year because, after three decades of showing historical artists, we figured it was time to examine the works of an artist whose best output began in the 1950s," explained Alan Klinkhoff, one of the gallery’s directors and son of the late Walter Klinkhoff. "Personally, I love his art and have some in my own collection."
Beaulieu was born 1910 in Montreal’s Saint Louis Square. The eldest of seven children, his father was a barrister who enjoyed painting as a hobby. Beaulieu studied at the École des Beaux Arts where he befriended the likes of Jean-Paul Lemieux and Stanley Cosgrove. After saving enough money he traveled to Paris in 1938 and decided to stay. While in France for most of the next 35 years, he missed the signing in 1948 of the Refus global, the beginning of Quebec’s modern art movement. In 1939, Beaulieu had an atelier in the Montparnasse quarter, which at that time was the centre of the city’s art life. When the Nazis invaded Paris, he was placed in an internment camp from 1940 to 1944 along with fellow artist Jean Dallaire. It was during this period of confinement that the artist started painting his most popular subjects — acrobats, jugglers, clowns, mimes and marionettes.
Excellent examples of these in the exhibition are Saltimbanques joueurs de cartes, (1956) and Trois saltimbanques et marionette (1954). Beaulieu was certainly influenced by Pablo Picasso, but now we clearly see that he left his own distinguishing mark and was no poor-man’s-Picasso. In Paris, he was close with Picasso and Henri Matisse, Quebec artist Alfred Pellan as well as Jean Dallaire. During these years, he regularly displayed his works in various Montreal galleries, with a major solo show in 1959 at Dr. Stern’s Dominion Gallery. Beaulieu developed a technique of mixing watercolours with flour, producing a textured effect that enhanced his George Braque-inspired still-lifes. Engravings and etchings are other mediums in which he excelled.
The artist never laid an egg with his images of roosters, which are highly coveted by collectors. Outstanding is the 1974 untitled painting of clown, girl and rooster. Don’t overlook the abstract Le coq gris (1954). Other works that caught my eye at the show were Moulin à café (1953), Nature morte au poulet (1953) and Femme lisant (1947). The exhibition includes about 35 works and among them are some from the collection of local financial whiz Steven Jarislowsky, who is often referred to as Canada’s Warren Buffett.
As always for these exhibitions, the Klinkhoff family produces an accompanying bilingual catalogue and Beaulieu’s is extremely insightful. In preparing it, art historian Germain Lefebvre traced the life of the artist and his family in depth. Beaulieu returned to Quebec for good in 1973 and discovered Saint Sauveur, where he eventually bought a home to which he added a studio. "I’ve come full circle," he said one day. " I’m returning to my roots. Nature in the Laurentians is calling out to me. To tell the truth, I was often homesick in Europe and I’m very happy to be coming home." Beaulieu needed the quiet of the countryside after his whirl in Paris. He died in 1996.
Overlooked and undervalued in today’s marketplace, the result of this retrospective should create renewed interest, and rising prices, for Beaulieu’s art.